There had been substantial progress on the wall; no “breach” (broken place) left in it. Sanballat and company wanted a “consultation” (v. 2). Perhaps they hyped the request with talk like, “We are not as far apart as may appear.” Ono was about 27 miles north-west of Jerusalem; it would have been “neutral” territory, located not far from modern Israel’s airport just east of Tel Aviv.7 They wanted a mini-summit.
Verse 2b relates Nehemiah’s perception, likely an accurate one: they were intending harm or evil to him. Verse 3 contains his public response, viz., talk is no substitute for work.
Their persistence (v. 4) shows their helplessness or weakness, since they couldn’t think of any other approach except to repeat the last ploy. The fifth time (vv. 5-7) Sanballat also sent an open letter. To paraphrase: “If you don’t knuckle under, Nehemiah, we’ll spread a rumour like this to court as well: You’re planning to revolt and you have messianic pretensions. We’ll say you are even mustering prophetic support. If you don’t want this to get back to the king, you’d better play ball and pow-wow with us.”
Note the interjected prayer in verse 9b. Throughout, Nehemiah seems perceptive (v. 2), tenacious (v. 4), and clear-headed (v. 8), yet also weak. Otherwise, why pray this way? Here in the thick of it all he casts himself upon God’s strength.
Apparently Shemaiah wanted an interview (v. 10a), so Nehemiah called on him. Shemaiah’s intent was to get Nehemiah to commit a ritual transgression and thereby to be discredited. But Nehemiah discerned (v. 12) that God had not sent Shemaiah, but that Tobiah and Sanballat had paid him off.
When a prophet advises something contrary to the given word of God, he is a sham. It was all a plot to lead Nehemiah into sin (v. 13). And Shemaiah was only a part of the problem: the prophetess Noadiah and other prophets were conspiring together (v. 14), seeking to magnify Nehemiah’s danger and so to send him into paranoia.
Lessons for little Saints…
1. Why was Sanballat angry?
2. Why didn’t Nehemiah come down from the wall?
3. Why didn’t Nehemiah go into the temple?
4. Why were other Jews trying to stop Nehemiah?